D. Mystifying the Recording Process

Whenever I talk about recording I always feel that for the non-musicians I’m doing something akin to ruining the myth of Santa Clause for them. I feel like most of the public have this vision of a band getting together in a studio and just playing through their songs as a tape machine is running and the album is done. Some of you know that this is not at all what happens. For one thing, vocals are often done after the rest of the music has been recorded, due to problems with other instruments “bleeding” into the vocal microphone (especially if you do your recording in a studio that is just one big room, as Coincidence Machine does) as well as the fact that singers are so dreadful to work with that the rest of the band would much rather go out for a drink while the singer is doing the 17 takes to get their part (anther myth dispelled: quite often the vocal performance you hear on a recording is actually the combination of over a dozen performances used to create the illusion of a flawless take. Hope that doesn’t diminish your enjoyment of the next Muse record.) If there are backing vocals and harmony parts, anyone in the group not involved with these can usually schedule at least a week off while this is going on.

Guitar solos are also generally done later in the recording process. Mostly ‘cos guitar players are jackasses. Not in the same way as singers, who have to do 10-20 run thrus to have enough to patch together a complete take. Many guitarists I know can accomplish a good solo on the first take. But then they insist on doing 10 or 15 more, all of which are of the same quality as the first one. This could be considered a complete waste of time if it didn’t give the remainder of the ensemble the opportunity to go out for a drink.

We also live in an age where there are an unlimited number of tracks available, so in a studio situation there are always going to be members of the band who suddenly come up with the idea of adding a didgeridoo part to the song. Or how about putting glockenspiel in the second chorus? Or breaking bottle noises at the end of the solo. (These are always fun ‘cos someone in the band will smash a bottle in front of a mic, but then it won’t be “just the right sound” and there will be multiple takes of this. It’s a breaking bottle sound for crying out loud!) Usually after all these brilliant ideas are given their due and put onto tape (or hard drive) only a small percentage of them actually end up on the final recording. At this point it becomes hard to justify the hours of my life that have been spent sitting in a control room listening to breaking glass.

W/ Coincidence Machine we’ve worked out a good balance: “bed” tracks (drums and bass or drums and rhythm guitar, depending on the song) are done together, and then it’s usually up to me to take that home and do the sangin’, solos, overdubs, and sundry broken bottles on my own time. I then send these tracks to Matt, who then can spend as much time as he likes searching for the specific reverb that the track needs, or researching the exact compression the Living Colour used on “Information Overload”, deciding how much 3k hertz boost should be put on the second measure of the guitar solo, or floor tom, or whatever other nonsense I just don’t have the patience to be involved in.

Division of labour, just like Henry Ford intended.




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